Whilst the main focus in my small area of the North West of England was on Twickenham last Saturday, the following day there was just as intriguing an encounter at Murrayfield between Scotland and France.
Andy Robinson, Scotland’s top man, was typically open and forthright in his pre-Six Nations comment on what would be acceptable results for his team. I have known him for some years now; I coached him at Bath, then coached with him both at Bath and England. I know that he is one tough cookie and boy does he need this mentality at present!
There can be little argument that he has improved the attitudes and performances of the Scottish team in his tenure. They are in there challenging in most contests and given the relatively tiny base of international class players from which to put together a national side I feel that Robbo is doing a commendable job. Of course, I do not employ him and others more expert than me in what makes a coach tick may look on the situation differently.
He has yet to find the cure (it seems like a disease) for the team’s capacity to press the self-destruct button when they are in real contention, as evidenced in their opening three fixtures. Now and again it is the decision-making that lets them down but more often than not the mistakes are more aligned to the technical and disciplinary elements of the game. Players, given a structured freedom in which to play, must repay this with responsible behavior and individual discipline.
There is no hiding from the results, however, and no doubt critics will be circling the Scottish camp before the next game. Andy Robinson is a good coach and a proud and honest man. Maybe fortune needs to turn its attention his way.
On the other side of the white line was an experienced coach but a novice at international level, Philippe Saint-Andre. If he was unaware of it before, he will now understand that heading up the French team can be the most frustrating job in world rugby!
They travel from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again at great velocity within a game and they appeared desperate to outgun the Scots in the self-destruct department for the first 25 minutes. Mistakes galore in their own 22, forwards missing tackles and anarchy at the line- outs must have had Saint-Andre wondering if he had spent the week with these players. As ever, the strong scrummaging and the French ability to play from turnover ball allowed them to dictate the nature and tempo of the latter stages.
It will not always be an escape route, however, and I suspect Ireland may be licking their lips at the prospect of France not turning up next week until half-time. At Murrayfield there was a real air of distraction and a lack of interest in the French approach at first and certainly Saint-Andre will be looking for much more clarity, intensity and accuracy of behaviour in the opening salvos. Focusing on the task at hand might help and would allow the players then to demonstrate their undoubted footballing abilities.
Challenging times ahead in different ways for both coaches!